Rhondda Rips It Up! this Summer

14 March 2018

This Summer Welsh National Opera will be celebrating the life of pioneering Welsh suffragette and business woman Margaret Haig Thomas in our new all-female production Rhondda Rips It Up!

Rhondda Rips It Up! is unlike anything previously presented by WNO. Performed in a classic music hall style, with original songs inspired by the suffragette slogans. This tongue-in-cheek production takes audiences on a whirlwind tour of the inspiring activist’s mission.

Lady Rhondda, as she was known, was a suffragette who ran the Newport branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) – the militant organisation campaigning for women’s suffrage in the UK founded and run by Emmeline Pankhurst.

She was a pioneering business woman and sat on the boards of several international companies in the 1920s. The founder and editor of the influential feminist magazine Time and Tide, she campaigned tirelessly for equal rights for women. She was the first female Honorary President of The Institute of Directors and was posthumously responsible for the admission of women to the House of Lords.   

We’re thrilled to welcome back Madeleine Shaw (most recently seen in Der Rosenkavalier and Carmen for WNO) to play Lady Rhondda, and soprano Lesley Garrett who will guide the audience through the story as Master of Ceremonies in a character based on real-life pioneering music hall entertainer Vesta Tilley, a female compere impersonating a male. Lesley returns to WNO after delighting audiences in The Merry Widow and in 2015’s spectacular Chorus!

In a departure from WNO’s usual main scale Summer Season,Rhondda Rips It Up! will receive its world premiere at the Riverfront in Newport before touring Wales and England throughout June, and again in the autumn. The show will take in smaller venues in towns and cities that will enable WNO to reach many more people, including performances in Brecon, Treorchy and Newtown. It will also be performed at London’s Hackney Empire for two nights, a prestigious venue that elegantly and authentically represents the era in which the show is set.

Our production will be accompanied by a full programme of free events for everyone to join in with and activities underpinned by the suffragette slogan ‘Deeds not Words’ as WNO works with schools and other community groups to celebrate the life of Margaret Haig Thomas, whose actions paved the way for women’s rights in the personal, professional and political worlds, through music, humour and song.

On the 7 June WNO will also be hosting host a symposium in Newport on the challenges faced by women in the classical music world involving a range of high profile speakers and delegates from across the UK and Europe sharing experiences, challenges and exploring ways to make a difference for the future. Information about tickets to the event will be available on our website soon.

To continue the thrilling activity around the premiere, an online video series, curated by librettist Emma Jenkins, will explore the story and adventures of Newport suffragette Margaret Haig Thomas and will raise the curtain on what it takes to get a very modern musical comedy from page to stage. There will be five episode in total which will be published on our website as well as our YouTube channel.

Finally we will continue our innovative and creative use of digital technology with our most ambitious and experimental project to date featuring a site specific, Mixed Reality (MR) installation. This is a first for WNO, blending together music, theatre and performance.  Audiences will be transported from the physical space to an augmented environment via an iPad allowing audiences to access the world of Lady Rhondda in a highly engaging and unique way.

The Augmented Reality Exhibition will allow audiences to explore The Session House in Usk – where Margaret Haig Thomas was tried and sentenced for blowing up a Newport post box with a home-made bomb – through virtual images and technology.

For more information on any of our performances or free activities, please click here.